by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
A few years ago, USA Today had a piece about the Connie T. Maxwell Home in Greenwood SC. The Baptists started the home as an orphanage and as times changed they transitioned to serving children in any sort of need. The director told heart-breaking stories about the lives of the children before they were brought to Connie T. Maxwell. The reporter asked how the staff coped with the constant stress of dealing with the pain of others. The director said “You have to keep a sense of humor.” Then she showed the writer a file in her desk where she kept an anonymous collection of cute or funny things the children had said or done. “Whenever I get over-whelmed,” she said, “ I just open this drawer and read a few of these and I feel better.” The paper printed a few of the things the kids had said. My favorite is this, from a 9 year old boy: “Germs, germs germs, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. That’s all I ever hear about around here and I ain’t never seen either one of them.”
That young boy summed up a problem that Jesus addresses in our Gospel Lesson. It is Maundy Thursday,
Jesus realizes that when he’s gone his followers will be like the little boy, hearing and talking about Jesus without ever seeing him. So Jesus promises an answer, a solution to this “Never Seeing Jesus” problem. Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit. In our text he calls her the Counselor and The Spirit of Truth, but it’s the Holy Spirit he’s talking about.
It is likely that the disciples heard those words and looked at each other quizzically and then – nodded as if they understood when they really didn’t,and then – promptly forgot what he said. We are all familiar with this; it’s what we all do when our spouse or boss or teacher or significant other tells us things we don’t understand and don’t care enough about to ask for clarification.
So, they kind of forgot about it, and then the crucifixion and the resurrection happened, and then the hiding out and then there was Jesus’ popping in and out of their lives for a few weeks after the resurrection and then there was Ascension with Jesus’ floating off into heaven and, in midst of all that, who could possibly remember a one line promise about a Counselor. I mean, really, who would remember that?
So, here the disciples are, minding their own little, insignificant, Messianic Christian, storefront ,cult business, singing hymns and praying and still hiding out from the authorities when: WHOOSH! Jesus’ promise of a Spirit of Truth comes true. Noise, wind, fire, voices shouting, movement, out of control religious excitement; of one thing we can be absolutely certain; the first church was definitely NOT Lutheran!
The church was born in answer to the problem of talking about Jesus without being able to see him. “Germs, germs, germs, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. That’s all I hear about around here and I ain’t never seen either one of them”. Though I understand what that young man was talking about, I would beg to differ.
He saw Jesus every day in the very existence of that home, built and supported by the Church. He saw Jesus every day in the people who bathed, fed, disciplined, taught and loved him.
The church is both a place and a people. It is a place and a people where Jesus is not just talked about but is shown to the world. It is not by accident that the New Testament constantly refers to the church as the body of Christ. Too often we think of the church in personal terms, in terms of what am I getting out of it, of how am I being fed, of how are my needs being met, etc. To think that is to misunderstand the nature of the church. It is significant that belief in the church is in the third article of the creed because the third article is the part devoted to the Holy Spirit. The church is a work of the Holy Spirit in the world.
Luther’s explanation of the third article in the Small Catechism says that the church is: “called, gathered, enlightened, made holy and sent” The Holy Spirit is active in the church calling the world to God. We each of us have been called here by the spirit, we have been gathered together not just for convenience sake , not because talking to a lot of people at once is more efficient than talking one on one or because we need more voices to make the hymns sound better, or the more people we have the better we can pay the pastor.
No, we are gathered because it is the nature of human beings to need each other, to need to learn with and from each other, to learn to support and care for each other.
It is in the midst of the gathered community that we become truly holy, not perfect, not ideal, not without problem or moral struggles and flaws, but holy. Devoted to God and aware of God’s presence in us and in others and in the world.
And it is as we have been gathered and enlightened and made holy that we realize that we have not been made those things for ourselves and for our own benefit and for our own personal growth, but for the world. We realize that we have been gathered so that we might be sent, sent into a world that needs love, that needs care, that needs compassion, that needs to see Jesus in the midst of the toxic germs of modern life.
In his book “Red Letter Christians,” Tony Campolo tells of sitting down to dinner in a restaurant in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Seated next to the front window, he looked up from his plate to discover three little boys with their faces pressed against the window, staring at his plate full of food. The waiter came by and pulled down the shade, “Don’t let them bother you, enjoy your meal.” (Campolo, “Red Letter Christians,” P. 24)
There is a world just outside these walls that is starving for what God has to offer. We can be the only Jesus those people ever see. We can be the body of Christ in their lives. Or not. Are we going to pull the shade? Or are we going to get up and go deal with them?
Amen and amen.